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5 Ways to Be Better Prepared for College With a Mental Illness

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As a former college student, I know what it’s like to live with a mental health condition and try to successfully make it through a college semester with good grades, an active social life, extracurricular activities and a part-time job to boot. It’s not easy, and it’s overwhelming to say the least. When you are someone who is prone to depression or anxiety, it is important to be proactive in taking the steps to prepare for whatever may happen in order to have a successful college semester.

Even so, depression or anxiety can come on suddenly. You may not realize you are depressed until you are already deep into an episode, your grades are suffering, your activities are dwindling and your job is becoming more and more of a chore. I struggled through my college years with my mental health. I wish I had been better prepared to face the challenges that came with my mental illness. Here are a few of the ways you can take charge of your mental health at school.

1. Talk to your academic advisor.

Your advisor will be there for you academically and for whatever support you need throughout your semester. If you are having challenges with school because of your mental health, be honest with your advisor about it. They will know of the resources on campus you can utilize in order to be more successful and better supported. They are not there to judge you — only to lend a hand. Let your professors know what’s going on.

While I was in college, the first few years were the hardest because I was afraid to speak up. My grades sometimes suffered because I didn’t know I could be open about what kinds of struggles I was having and the reasons why I was having trouble with school work. If you are having a hard time with your school work or are feeling overwhelmed, let your professors know you are struggling. They may also be able to tell you about some resources on campus or to help you out with their specific coursework and maybe even lighten your load somehow. You will still need to follow the course guidelines, but I have often found they can offer help in many ways.

2. Find your campus Student Support Services.

My campus (just like every other campus) had an office called Student Support Services located right in the main building. I had no idea this existed for the first two years I was a student. They offer services for students with disabilities, people who may need extra time on tests (including those with anxiety or depression – even if you don’t have a learning disability this may help you, as depression often comes with concentration issues) and an alternate room for testing so you don’t have the pressure of taking the exam with your professor and the other students. They also offer people to meet with you weekly and help you get organized for classes and studying, and to communicate with professors on your behalf if you need help with that. They will help you with anything you need. All you need to do is ask. I found this so helpful during my last semester on campus. I only wish I had found this service sooner!

3. Campus counseling services.

One thing I did always utilize was on-campus counseling. This can be particularly helpful to those who struggle with a mental health condition. However, counseling can be helpful to anyone in college. Weekly counseling sessions allowed me to organize my thoughts, talk about personal, work or school-related things going on in my life and gave me a chance to express myself to a neutral person other than friends or family. Counseling is something I would recommend to anyone.

4. Take online courses.

Sometimes, when depression hits, it can be hard to get out of bed. When you are particularly anxious, it can be hard to go to a physical class as well. Presentations and group projects can be overwhelming for those of us with anxiety. For some, online courses are a great option. If you can learn using an online format and stay organized, I would recommend online courses. There are still deadlines, but there are no physical classes to go to and you can do the work on your own time. These classes are not right for everyone. It’s always best to do what works for you.

5. Friends and family.

I found that, most of all, my friends and family kept me going through college. Without them, everything would have been much more difficult. I still struggled, but my friends often helped by getting me out of my room, and my family kept me occupied with phone calls between classes. Socialization is key.

When you’re preparing for a college semester, it’s important to be proactive and prepare for whatever may come your way. Find your supports, whether they may be your academic advisor, a professor you trust, a counselor, your campus’ Student Support Services or all of the above!

Photo by Julia Kutsaeva on Unsplash

Originally published: September 4, 2019
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